Stats issued for Sweet Home homeless center

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Last month, Sweet Home’s new homeless center east of Bi-Mart was declared a “success,” but Family Assistance and Resource Center Program Manager Brock Byers shared actual numbers Thursday, April 13, during a Community Health Committee meeting.

The managed outreach and community resource meeting has taken in 47 distinct clients with a median age of 49 since its January opening, Byers reported.

“We’re seeing that number go up,” he said of that age statistic. “That’s going to be the next wave. We’ve talked about elders, and they have very special needs, and we’re going to have a lot of interesting issues come up in the future.”

According to Byers, the shelter has been at capacity since its first day. It originally opened with 18 huts and has slowly been adding more. He said 20 to 25 people are on a waitlist, as are five to 10 people with pets, as the facility is the only one in Linn or Benton county that handles animals.

The site features five “couples huts,” or huts with dual occupancy. Byers mentioned that the facility does not yet have a hut for its handicapped population.

FAC has provided 1,210 total bed nights, 3,630 total meals and approximately 250 showers (about three per person a week). Sweet Home Emergency Ministries has been a major food contributor through its Manna Meals program, serving three nights a week.

“It’s what keeps us afloat,” Byers said.

The gender breakdown has been 57% male to 43% female. Some 89% of clients have been white, while 4.3% were black, Pacific Islander, Latino or multiracial, and 2.1% were Native American. About 48% have been victims of domestic violence. Some 43% live with a severe disability, 35% with severe mental illness and 43% with alcohol or drug addiction. About 15% identified as veterans while 28% are on supplemental security income, 20% are on social security disability insurance and 85% are covered by the Oregon Health Plan.

Byers also noted that two individuals are deaf, which “creates lots of interesting challenges.”

When asked about their longest city residencies over the last year, 30 clients said Sweet Home, five said Lebanon, four said Albany, three said California, two said another part of Oregon and one said the Salem area. About 17 clients have been in town for more than two years, three for a year to two years, seven for six months to a year, 11 for one to six months and five for less than a month.

“The majority have all been here,” Byers said. “They’re our locals. We’re getting them off the street. I think we’ve seen the result. I haven’t seen too many folks out.”

The facility has distributed 116 bus tickets.

“Everybody’s figuring out the transportation system and it’s being more and more adopted,” Byers said.

Additionally, he noted, “we are the only facility that has a visiting doctor and nurse.”

Six people have transitioned to housing since the facility went online, Byers said, adding that one former resident is now assisting others.

“We have partners that have been working with people,” he said. “It’s the community. It’s our clients. It’s our partners. We’re just excited to have six people filter through.”

“But you’re providing the opportunity for them to have a place to go to find these people easier, and to work,” City Councilor Lisa Gourley said. “That one-stop shopping is obviously working.”

“When you’re stable and you have food and housing, and you get an opportunity to get a little entertainment (the facility features movies, puzzles and art projects),” Byers explained, “you start feeling normal again. ‘What about getting my Social Security all worked out, or getting my ID to get a license, or getting housing?’ It allows people to open their minds a bit to possibilities. Whereas before, it’s ‘Where am I getting my next meal?'”

According to Byers, staff would initially rush to find housing for clients, but experience has suggested a different approach.

“It’s too soon,” he said. “These people need to heal. They have mental illness. They need to get on medications. They need to learn how to pay bills and be responsible and lock their huts, and not just leave things out.”

Byers called the facility “spotless,” far tidier than the previous homeless encampment outside of the old City Hall building and most definitely in less need of police intervention. In the month before the shelter opened, Sweet Home police responded to 17 calls at the former encampment. That number dropped to three calls a month later.

Byers added that the facility has allowed FAC to service people it previously had no contact with.

“They’re literally out in the woods,” Byers said. “They’re all over. We’ve seen individuals we’ve never seen before, and we’ve been doing outreach here for years.”

“We have a lot of people who live here up Moose Creek and different places, that have always been here,” Gourley said. “People just don’t see them.”

Byers mentioned a certain area the organization plans to target.

“There’s an interesting group at Wiley Creek, and we’re now doing outreach there,” he said. “We’re in conversation to understand that dynamic a little bit more.”

Byers said he’s going to pressure Linn County to ensure that funds combat local homelessness.

“We have over 200 kids that are homeless,” he said. “We have a significant group of elderly that could be, should be or are homeless. We have a lot of couch people. We need resources.”

But the program manager also drew attention to the homeless people themselves who are helping each other through their respective journeys.

“We have some really good people,” he said, “and we’re building a community, so they tend to kind of take care of themselves as well, so it’s helpful.”